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ACTOR’S JFK STAGE SHOW FINDS A CONSTITUENCY

Times Staff Writer

Mark McIntire’s business is resurrection. No, not in the religious sense. But as an actor, writer and historian, McIntire has spent much of the last nine years bringing President John F. Kennedy to life in a one-man show he has performed for theater audiences around the country.

McIntire brings that show, “JFK: A Time Remembered,” to Orange County on Friday, the 22nd anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. (The 8 p.m. performance will be held at Coastline Community College’s Newport Beach center, 3101 Pacific View Drive in Corona Del Mar.)

Even though more than two decades have passed since that infamous day, and five men have subsequently assumed the nation’s highest elected office, McIntire said he finds that the Kennedy mystique still holds a special place in the American consciousness.

“President Kennedy was a stunning visual image for America: he was our first television president, and he captured the ambition of the baby-boom generation,” McIntire said during a recent interview at Coastline’s Fountain Valley center. He was at the college videotaping scenes from the show for promotional use on local cable stations.

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But while McIntire admits that nostalgia is a large part of the show’s appeal, he also said it is an increasingly popular attraction on college campuses, where most students are too young to remember the nation’s 35th President.

“We now have a whole generation of people who have grown up without any direct experience with John Kennedy,” said McIntire, 41, who also portrayed Kennedy in ABC-TV’s “Call to Glory” series last year and in the 1978 TV movie “Harold Robbins’ The Pirate.”

As revered as Kennedy was with the populace, McIntire said his early performances as the president often met with hostile responses from audiences.

“President Kennedy had not been dead that long, and some people felt it was sacrilegious in a way to drag him out out of his coffin and put him on stage live,” McIntire said.

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“But as people’s attitudes changed, as patriotism became more of a positive virtue, as people began to believe in their country again and the possibility of finding their way out of the miasma of Vietnam, then reaction to the show changed, the show changed and I changed. We’re all on evolutionary continuum here. It’s not like the show is a static thing and I’m a static thing.”

As both writer and performer, McIntire said he constantly revises the show, drawing from government documents and three men he calls “the primary sources” on the Kennedy Administration: Theodore Sorenson, official counsel to the President; Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., special assistant to the President; and Dave Powers, curator of the JFK Memorial Library in Boston. He also culled material from “My 12 Years With JFK,” a book written by Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s personal secretary.

Armed with those resources, McIntire, who bears a physical resemblance to Kennedy, also employs the familiar gestures, the brushed back shock of dark hair and the distinctive Kennedy-Hyannis Port diction in his presentation.

Yet while he obviously admires the man he portrays, McIntire said he has modified the show over the years to give audiences not just a vicarious encounter with a President, but also a glimpse at the man behind the myth.

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In one scene, Kennedy is shown in a telephone conversation with then-U.S. Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy. As McIntire plays the scene, instead of the warm and congenial Kennedy usually seen by the public, the President is seen tersely advising his younger brother that the proper response in dealing with a political adversary is “don’t get mad--get even.”

Said McIntire: “He was a human being with weaknesses and failings who also very much wanted to create an image. He believed that heroes were important. And he loved being president. That’s my subtext: If he didn’t love what he was doing, then he felt there was no reason to do it.”

A few years ago, McIntire expanded the show from what was strictly a one-man theatrical performance to include a mock press conference during which he answers question from the audience while still in character.

“That is the most enjoyable part,” he said. “It’s the closest an actor comes to crossing that barrier between Mark McIntire and President Kennedy. It’s interesting how some (members of the audience) do research in certain areas before the show. . . . I get lots of strange questions that really force me to think on my feet.”

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A member of the Screen Actors Guild board of directors who holds master’s degrees in theater and philosophy from Catholic University in Washington, McIntire also has had various non-Kennedy roles in television and commercials. That includes having once portrayed Richard Nixon in a film.

Which is the more dramatically interesting character? “Nixon,” McIntire said. “He was a tragic figure. Kennedy was a martyr figure, but he was upbeat, positive. Nixon had a brooding, dark personality. He hated the Kennedys and their Brooks Brothers suits that he couldn’t wear . . . and how they could run down the beach in swim suits and look great but he couldn’t.”

As for President Reagan, often described as the most effective communicator to hold the presidency since Kennedy, McIntire said: “I don’t know what all this business is about (Reagan) being a great communicator. Maybe I’m overweaned on the Kennedy style . . . but to me, Reagan doesn’t have the rhetorical power. He does a great job and is very effective, but he doesn’t have the ability to inspire that Kennedy did.”

“Reagan can sell you an electric toaster,” McIntire said with a smile. “Kennedy could convince you to stick your hand inside the toaster . . . while it’s on.”

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